Space rocks from other planets brought life to Earth?

Computer simulations indicate the possibility that life could have come to Earth via a piece of another planet.

princeton star cluster
Tiny organisms embedded in rocks expelled from other planets that then smashed into Earth could have brought life to the planet, according to researchers presenting computer simulated evidence of such occurrences at the European Planetary Sciences Congress this week.

The researchers report that the solar system and its nearest planetary neighbors could have swapped rocks via asteroids or meteors at least 100 trillion times well before the Sun struck out from its native star cluster. Furthermore, existing rock evidence shows that basic life forms could indeed date from the Sun's birth -- and have been hardy enough to survive an interstellar journey and eventual impact.

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Princeton University researchers Edward Belbruno and Amaya Moro-Martín, said that under certain conditions "there is a high probability that life came to Earth -- or spread from Earth to other planets -- during the solar system's infancy when Earth and its planetary neighbors orbiting other stars would have been close enough to each other to exchange lots of solid material."

The research is based on computer simulations of the star cluster that gave forth our Sun and backs up a theory known as "weak transfer" in which solid objects can gradually meander out of the orbit of one object and into another.  The simulations greatly increase the odds that the process known as "lithopanspermia" could have happened, the researchers said.  

Lithopanspermia the hypothesis that basic life forms are distributed throughout the universe via meteorite-like planetary fragments blown out by disruptions such as volcanic eruptions and collisions with objects such as asteroids.  The theory holds that eventually, another planetary system's gravity trapped these roaming rocks, which could have resulted in a mingling that transferred living cargo, the rescuers said.

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The researchers noted that the evidence of lithopanspermia would fly in the face of other research that says the speed of objects flashing through space would normally kill anything living.

"Our work says the opposite of most previous work.  It says that lithopanspermia might have been very likely, and it may be the first paper to demonstrate that. If this mechanism is true, it has implications for life in the universe as a whole," Belbruno said in a statement.

"The study of the probability of landing on a terrestrial planet is work that we now know is worth doing because large quantities of solid material originating from the first planetary system may be trapped by the second planetary system, waiting to land on a terrestrial planet," says Moro-Martín. "Our study does not prove lithopanspermia actually took place, but it indicates that it is an open possibility."

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